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Archive for the ‘Arboriculture’ Category

…and go back to school for a day.  If anyone in the Massachusetts woody-plants world has not seen the latest in tree- and shrub-planting techniques, here’s your chance:  on September 27, Rolf Briggs and Matt Foti will be giving a workshop entitled At The Root:  Air Tools Workshop at the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden In The Woods.   Matt and Rolf will discuss and show the best techniques for planting trees and shrubs fresh from the nursery (air tools not necessary for this), as well as how to use air tools to trench under trees, decompact soil, and transplant trees.

I have my reasons to promote this workshop (and it’s next-day partner, At The Root: Understanding and Managing Healthy Soils), and they center on the fact that every planting season I find myself coaching laborers on how to deal with the root balls of plants that we’re planting on my job sites.  The boss, not knowing or having taught his laborers the proper planting techniques, usually has priced the work based on a quick  installation (dig the hole, stick the plant in, cover up the root ball, basket, and burlap), and the laborers, knowing only the quick and dirty method, look sideways at me as I show them what I want them to do.  The guys do the work the way I want it, but really, the process would go much more smoothly, and more landscapes would establish and grow in better, if everyone knew , priced, and carried out the work in what are considered the most plant-friendly ways.

Some of the most effective tools available to see what can be considered plant-friendly, and to work in soil crowded with roots, are pneumatic air tools.  I believe that Rolf and Matt will be transplanting a tree bare-root, using air, which will afford workshop attendees a chance to see what a tree’s roots really look like when the soil is blown away.  It’s an experience that can change how anyone working with plants understands how a plant grows and anchors itself, and for that alone this workshop is worth attending.

Watering in a newly planted tree-form Taxus from Weston Nurseries.

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Last week Matt Foti sent me photos of a bare-root transplant his crew performed on 25 March 2012 in downtown Boston.  They blew soil off the roots of an 8.5″ caliper weeping hornbeam tree (Carpinus betulus ‘Pendula’), and moved it from one end of the city block to the other.  Take a look at this beauty:

This 8.5″ caliper weeping hornbeam tree is getting transplanted from a bed on Summer Street, outside Boston's Federal Reserve Bank building. Note the pigtails on the tree’s near side, and the thick burlap wrapping to protect its trunk.

The tree being moved to its new home in a 3-4′ tall planter on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Congress Street. Burlap tied under the root mass helps contain loose soil during the move.

Weeping hornbeam in its new location. The Federal Reserve does an excellent job tending its plants, so this one should get the consistent aftercare all transplanted trees need.

With this warm winter and spring, trees have been leafing out several weeks early; this one had just begun to leaf out before it got moved.  The Foti crew has had good success moving trees bare-root even during bud-break; it’ll be interesting to watch this tree and see how it settles in to its new home over the coming year.

 

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This past week I had occasion to pass the same suburban Massachusetts middle school on two days in a row, and on each of those days my eyes goggled at the sight of a new planting on a slope facing the road.  The array of brown, grey, and coppery-red foliage — on the trees that still had foliage — was stunning.  From what I can tell, over the last month or so more than thirty new oaks, zelkovas, and pears were planted as an understory to a mature oak forest.  Did I say stunning?  Yes — but not in a good way.  Most of the trees are dead, and it’s likely that within a few weeks the few still hanging on will die.

You have to admire the forward thinking that gets a new stand of trees started while an existing stand remains; it’s a principle used more in European landscapes than American ones, and we could stand to practice it more here.  It really makes sense to extend one’s planning horizon beyond the span of one’s own life and think both in terms of tree longevity and of the needs of generations to come after us.  The idea of getting young trees established under a mature stand seems particularly apt at on a school property, where adults are fostering the growth and education of children, and tending the young beings who will one day assume adulthood.

So the failure of this planting, installed with apparently the most admirable of motives, seemed especially poignant and distressing.  The tree species selection seemed fine, but it looked as if almost every other element of a planting — root ball size, soil quality, well construction, mulch used (or lack of it), and watering — was inadequate to fulfill the aim of establishing a planting that would live and thrive.

It was impossible to miss this planting from the road below. Virtually every newly planted tree is either dead or nearly so.

From the school drive above the slope, the view is as disappointing. The pears look like the toughest of the new trees out there. Fall color in July is never a good sign, but at least they still have leaves. The zelkovas are mostly bare.

That pile of soil in the foreground is the native soil on this New England upland slope, thin and sandy, with little organic material evident. It appears that the new trees were planted directly into this soil without amendment -- which is fine, as long as the planting crew worked on the root balls to make a rougher interface between root ball soil and native soil. Because water will only move from soil of one porosity to another when the soil is saturated, and roots follow water, you want to scuff up the walls of a root ball to make a less distinct interface between the two soils, and to encourage water and roots to cross the interface.

Tiny root ball? Perhaps. For a 3" caliper tree like this , ANSI standards call for a 32" diameter root ball. The well on this root ball is about 18" in diameter, so it looks as if the root ball is small -- but it may simply be that the well itself is inadequate. Wells should be built outside the root ball wall, so that water is held over the root ball and over the interface between surrounding soil and root ball soil, and so promotes root growth beyond the root ball. Not to mention that these trees were placed right at the drive edge, where their root cannot spread out under the asphalt, and the weight and pressure of plowed snow can tip them...

Another tiny root ball, with a mini-well. The well is very loosely constructed; water has broken through and run down the sandy slope, leaving the tree high and dry. This photo makes me thirsty.

All of the trees are planted on sloping ground, but hardly look it -- another indication that root balls and water wells are too small. Got mulch, anyone? Particularly in this type of sandy soil, a watering schedule and at least a temporary irrigation system (set up to last and run through the first growing season) would help establish the trees. Planting like this has consigned what were once good trees to the chipper.

Egh. More of the same.

What good can be said of this planting?  Well, again, the idea of starting a new generation of trees in an established stand is an admirable one.  The tree’s root flares appeared to be in the proper relation to the surface of their root balls.  Otherwise, it seems to me that this planting is a cautionary tale:  against contractors who do not know how to plant properly, against too-small root balls, poor soils, substandard planting practices, bad tree wells, the absence of mulch, inadequate provision for watering, and inadequate watering itself.  The information on how to plant and foster trees is readily available, so the question may be how do we broaden people’s awareness of it, and their awareness that trees are living organisms rather than tall pieces of furniture?  Any ideas?

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I took a great class this past January at the Arnold Arboretum.  It was called Grafting Techniques for Ornamental Trees, and was taught by Jack Alexander, the Arboretum’s Plant Propagator.  Jack, who is not only an extremely talented plantsman but an excellent teacher, taught us how to prepare cuttings, how to make several different kinds of grafting cuts, how to fit scion and root stock together, wrap the graft point with an elastic band, and then wrap the whole shebang with Parafilm.

Anyway, at one point during the daylong class  Jack had us take a break from grafting and showed the class some slides.  Among them were shots of a grafting project that he had been commissioned, privately, to work on some years ago.

The tree, located on a property outside of Boston, was a 40-50′ high grafted weeping beech.  It had been top-grafted at a point about 5′ from grade; the trunk below the graft point was about 30″ in diameter, while the trunk above it was considerably larger.

Hartney Greymont, Inc., arborists in charge of the tree, had noticed flagging in the tree’s canopy in 1984.  They hypothesized that the roots could not get enough water up through the constriction to the tree’s crown, and that photosynthate was accumulating above the graft point.  They called in Jack Alexander to do some grafting that could help improve the situation.

The problem:  Constriction at the graft point was retarding the flow of water up to the tree’s canopy, and possibly preventing photosynthate from flowing down to the roots from the crown.

The solution:  Remedial grafting, using four beech saplings to create supplemental trunks.

The process:  In the fall of 1984, Hartney Greymont planted four 2-3″ caliper (3/4″ dbh) beech saplings around the tree, evenly spaced from each other and about 3′ out from the tree’s trunk.  The saplings settled in over the winter.   Jack, who had the experience and expertise to work comfortably with such a valuable tree, then grafted the tops of each sapling to the trunk of the specimen beech above the graft point. This process is called inarching.  Jack believes he performed the grafts in April of 1985.

The newly inarched beech, with three of the four saplings planted and grafted above the beech's graft point visible here. Matching the cambium of the saplings to the cambium of the mature tree allows photosynthate from the tree's crown to flow down the sapling trunks, supplying them with nutrients that otherwise would serve to overenlarge the beech's trunk just above the graft point, making the tree more susceptible to failure. The inarched saplings make a conduit for water to flow upwards into the canopy from the roots as they benefit from the abundance of photosynthate, and in turn enhance the tree's stability. Photo Copyright © 1985 Jack Alexander, used by permission.

The following year, one sapling had died, so Hartney planted another, and Jack grafted it to the tree in the spring of 1986.  A total of four buttress trees now help support the specimen tree.

The result:  Photosynthate flows down from the tree’s crown through the constricted graft point, as it always has, but it also flows down through the four inarched saplings.  Because the saplings are being nourished by the mature crown of the specimen, over the last 26 years they have come to serve as living buttresses to the mother tree.

In Jack’s words:  “By grafting additional rootstocks, we provided roots to provide more water to the top where it was flagging. The additional roots systems grew rapidly, tending to corroborate the opinion that there was a surplus of photosynthate accumulating above the graft union.”

A few weeks ago, in late April 2011, Carl Cathcart took me to see the beech.  The house had been sold since the beech had been buttressed, but the current homeowner was kind enough to let us see and photograph it.  Here are photos of it as it stands today.  It was wonderful to see this behemoth and to read its character, especially knowing its history.

Carl Cathcart with the inarched specimen weeping beech.

The beech from a different angle. What look like elephant legs under the tree are the ingrafted saplings that have now become living buttresses.

Three buttresses are visible in this image; the smallest is about 6" dbh. This photo was taken from about the same point as Jack Alexander's 1985 photo.

When I sent the photos to Jack, he wrote ” It’s nice to see these pics.  The tree seems like an old friend.” You can see why — this is a tree with personality, and Jack did some remarkable work with it.

Propagator/Grafter:  Jack Alexander

Arborist in charge:  Hartney Greymont, Inc. 

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If we can clone crabapples, maples, and chamaecyparis, why can’t we clone the enormous redwoods that stand as the world’s tallest trees?  Well, apparently we can. This article in Sunday’s New York Times (4/10/2011) explains how a group of arborists dedicated to propagating and planting clonal stands of coastal and giant sequoias, using tissue and cuttings harvested from the sprouting stumps of sequoias that have been cut down.   It’s a compelling read, has good pix, and might leave you with something to chew on.

 

 

 

 

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Yesterday I swung by the site where Herbie, the American Elm in Yarmouth, Maine, had stood for over two centuries.  Herbie was taken down last January; to read the tale see this post, and to see photos of Herbie’s stump, click on this link.

I hadn’t planned to stop and see the stump — what more could be said about a stump?  As the exit from Rte. 95 neared, though, I wondered if anyone might have put up any signs, or even if some of the woodwork from Herbie’s wood might be displayed on the site.

It wasn’t though, and in fact all that remained of the stump was an area, approximately 12′ x 18′,  of wood chips.  Herbie’s stump had been ground.  The adjacent road has been undergoing repaving, and stakes and markers dot the roadside and the edge of the chipped area.  We’ll have to wait and see what takes place now where Herbie once stood.

All that remains are wood chips, an open space, and a view of the utility pole.

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Mark Smith, construction project manager for Belknap Landscape Company in Gilford, NH, sent me photos and a description of the air-tool transplant his company executed with Piscataqua Landscaping recently.  Belknap has been using air tools for transplanting, site preparation (excavating roots at foundation limit lines prior to the foundation excavation), and root forensics, and has also used compressed air to reduce weight in larger B&B-dug root balls being moved.

Here’s what Mark had to say about the Weeping Norway Spruce they recently moved from Baker Valley Nurseries (with light editing):

“We moved a 25+ year old Weeping Norway Spruce that has resided in Baker Valley Nurseries in Rumney for the duration of its life.  This tree stood 10-11 feet tall and at least 12 feet wide on one direction.  The last time this tree was root pruned with a spade was 10 years ago.

Through the spading process we could clearly see where this root pruning occurred.  All said and done we were left with a 25-30′ wide root system…You cannot see that in these pics real well, as we had all the roots coiled up into harnesses and sitting atop the root pan.

I helped Piscataqua with the digging of this and am told so far it looks great in its new home on the coast.  Just to dig and get the tree in the truck took about 4-5 hours with 2 of us spading, and then 4 of us to get the tree in the truck which was actually the worst part.”

The tree before excavation.

Branches tied back to permit easier blowout.

Leader wrapped in burlap to protect it during excavation and moving.

Deepening the excavation.

Root plate covered in wet burlap for the pickup and move.

Guiding the forks for the lift.

Confirming a balanced and firm placement on the forks.

Guiding the lift.

A final spray-down before transport.

No photos yet of the tree in its new location, but when they come in I’ll post them.

Tree and equipment supplier:   Baker Valley Nurseries, Inc., Wentworth, NH

Moved by:

Piscataqua Landscaping Company, Inc., Eliot, ME  (Booth Hemingway and Travis Wright) and

Belknap Landscape Company, Inc., Gilford, NH (Mark Smith)

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